For the better part of my life I was in a newspaper, a form of media which is on its last legs in most developed countries and Europe in particular. In India, newspapers are still thriving with a more than 10 per cent annual growth for most regional newspapers. That is huge given the current market conditions.
While regional newspapers are growing, the English newspaper market is stagnating for the last few years with no significant growth in revenue, rising costs of staff salaries and printing costs, not to mention other ancillary costs of keeping the business up and running.
Hence, most newspapers are freely sharing their stuff with the digital versions of the media, a process that started around 2001-2002. Right now, the process is complete. Most newspaper reporters and sub-editors work for online portals while producing newspaper pages on the side. Only one or two newspapers still don't share desk staff because of the workload but in most others, you won't find the separate set of reporters or sub-editors for online portals. They are one and the same.
But the enormous workload that online portals have brought forth, has created a new breed of media workers, who are neither reporters nor on the desk. They don't do reporting and they don't edit copies either. They just come to office and start scanning the internet with one eye firmly fixed on the social media updates of celebrities. When that is done, they start scanning what other websites are writing about. If there's something, they feel is getting page-views -- they straightaway rehash it for their own portal, with or without attribution.
Quality is another issue, but what is most dangerous about these new breed of workers is that they are nameless and faceless people continuously churning out "content" on the basis of a set routine what they call content calendar. The content calendar is more about quantity than quality. This means that they have to produce a certain number of articles, every day.
This is where the problem lies.
On a daily basis, there are about a 100 people in Mumbai who are churning out "content" sitting in their air-conditioned offices looking at social media and other websites. They are blindly copying the matter, adding a headline and a picture and off you go.
No, there are no fact-checks, reality checks and even sharing of responsibility. It just cut-copy-paste and slam!
I remember that about a couple of months back, I got a call from Raveena Tandon, early in the morning about a report carried in a reputed newspaper’s online portal. Raveena was calling from the US and she had a very simple query. She had stayed awake in the dead of the night so that she could reach out to me.
She was sounding very upset.
She had put out a tweet about some anti-social elements destroying foods and trashing them on the streets. She tweeted against them and said that anti-social elements should be put into jail. In subsequent tweets, she clarified that she is not against farmers but the anti-social elements who are destroying food articles after snatching it away from farmers.
The newspaper -- while copy-pasting from another website -- hinted that Raveena had taken an anti-farmer stand and wants farmers to be jailed for destroying food.
Raveena, who was in the US, was understandably upset. She wanted to speak to the editor of the portal and the concerned reporter and come on record about what she meant by the tweet and what exactly she wants to convey.
The situation was this: The person you are reporting about is saying that her social media update has been reported erroneously and she wants to come on record to clarify her stand.
After a lot of calls to people I knew in the newspaper, I could finally get through to the shift editor who was heading the shift when the article about Raveena was put up. When I explained that Raveena wants to clarify, he handed over the mobile to the person who actually put it up on the article online.
The conversation went something like this...
- Hi. This is Soumyadipta. May I know with whom I am speaking to?
- Tell me what's wrong with the article
- May I know your name?
- The article that you have put up is factually wrong. The person you have reported on, wants to clarify about it to you
- We have picked it up from ***** (another portal). Please ask her to talk to them
- The other portal has issued a clarification. But she wants to speak to you directly and on record. She can send an email and even you can record the call if you want. Do you want an interview?
- No. She had tweeted about it and now she has deleted it
- Yes, she has clarified and she has deleted it because she was being trolled. She has clarified it on Twitter. Could you carry the clarification also?
- We won't change it
- But isn't this against Journalism? Aren't you duty-bound to carry a clarification and a rejoinder, of they are issued to you?
- I am sorry. This cannot be done. We will not move the article and neither will we change it
- This is a factually wrong article and it is going viral. It is getting thousands of page-views but it is affecting Raveena Tandon. She is being subjected to vile abuses. Request you to please carry her clarification too. It's a part of your duty. Hello....
(The call gets disconnected)
I called up Raveena in the US and she was stunned. "Has journalism changed after you left?" she asked me.
I had no answer.
I didn't give up. I figured out that the call should have gone to a journalist and not a content curator. So, the next call went to the editor-in-chief who was holidaying abroad.
A day later, the article was taken down. But the damage was already done.
Raveena Tandon was scarred, she had endured two days of constant abuse on Twitter.
This, my dear friends, is an example of what we call Bollywood Journalism, where facts and even celebrities don't matter when a content is going viral.